Posted on April 13th, 2017
‘Why Uganda?’ A very good question, asked by very many people, and answered (inadequately, I’m sure) only to a few. Hopefully, in the ensuing paragraphs about my time as a volunteer, I will be able to share my answer with you, and in doing so encourage you to take the leap that I took – one that I have never looked back from.
As you may have realised, I am not Charlie. Unfortunately, I do not have a degree in English, and so I do apologise in advance if this piece lacks the linguistic flair that has become custom of the recent updates from HYT.
In my final year at Haileybury, I had the privilege of being tutored by Russell Matcham, who first floated the idea of visiting HYT’s work in Uganda. Compounded by the reports from my peers who had visited Uganda that year, and by the stories of my HM, Nick Davies’ time there, I applied to volunteer.
Travelling to Uganda is not cheap, and with this in mind I applied to four different jobs, expecting to be turned down by all. By some stroke of luck, I was offered all four, and decided to take them on. Five months of 12-hour shifts, 6am finishes and 7-day weeks later, I was exhausted, but excited.
A few days into my time in Uganda, we visited a village near Kamuli town and were greeted by the whole community in their smart Sunday dress sitting in anticipation under the mango tree. We were welcomed like celebrities, with the local children clamouring to touch our unusually pale skin. The meeting concluded with Mauricia (HYT Country Manager) telling the community that we had decided to build in their village. With grown men and women crying with joy, and the kids screaming our names and chasing after the truck, it really was a special feeling.
On the journey back, I looked around in the car, and realised that I really didn’t deserve that welcome. What had I done to help these people, other than taking the credit for a decision I didn’t help make? The other members of the team had all contributed, in a tangible way, to improving the lives of these people. It was in that moment that I promised, to myself more than anyone, that my time as a volunteer will be spent trying, in every way possible, to feel like I have made a difference.
A couple of weeks later, I headed back into the village with the Training Manager, Freddo, for a few days. Having failed to make an Interlocking Stabilised Soil Block (ISSB) on my previous visit, I was determined to try until I succeeded – taken from the famous Haileybury Habits of course.
After a fair few laughs from onlookers, and many hours in the scorching sun, I had succeeded not only in making a few ISSBs, but also in laying the foundation for the new staff quarter and turning my skin a lobster-shade of red.
That evening, Freddo cooked his famous rolex (think: omelette-chapatti) for the two of us, which rivals even the most highly-acclaimed dishes from famous Michelin-star chefs. We were tempted to add the neighbour’s chicken into the recipe, although then we wouldn’t have our 4.30am alarm, or a place to sleep.
Aside from the tasks of an HYT volunteer, I have also been involved with the local Jinja ‘Hippos’ and Jinja Secondary School rugby teams. With a senior Hippos side that is to be promoted to the Ugandan Premier League, and many younger teams at the school looking to improve, I asked if I could help out and coach a few squads. I attempted to play in the senior squad for a few matches, but through a combination of a torn MCL and cartilage, and a lack of pace on my part, I decided to stick to the coaching side of things. Fortunately, coaches are included in the post-game celebrations.
‘Why Uganda?’ From the wonderful work HYT do, to the beautiful landscapes, the mountain gorillas, the climate, the locals, the boundless opportunities, white water rafting, trekking, rugby coaching, Freddo’s rolex, and the chance of a conservation lecture from Charlie or to hear PY’s infectious laugh, there’s really no reason not to visit.
So, instead of asking ‘Why Uganda’, I encourage you to rethink, and ask ‘Why not Uganda?’
Posted on March 29th, 2017
St. Stephen’s Primary School lies on the outskirts of Kamuli Town, and was chosen as HYT’s 10th ‘One Village at a Time’ project. Until recently, younger pupils studied under mango trees, with weather and the need to fetch water constantly disrupting their education. Teachers also struggled to reach school on time due to the difficulties of their daily commute. Thanks to the generous donations of three Haileybury houses, and the hard work of HYT trainers and trainees, this is starting to change.
HYT began by constructing a new classroom block on the site of a previous attempt that was abandoned when the school’s funds ran dry. The new build contains two classrooms and a central divider which enables its conversion into an exam hall. While those in the thrall of GCSE’s and A Levels may not see it as such, the examination space is a blessing for the pupils of St. Stephen’s, who otherwise must travel 5 kilometres to the nearest assessment centre. Such journeys incur unnecessary stress and travel costs for vulnerable families and children. Once construction is complete, St. Stephen’s Butaaya will provide a state of the art examination hall for local pupils.
There is not long to go before the classroom block is ready for use. The final or “finishing” stage is one of the most important, and it is being funded by Haileybury’s Batten House. This will include the instalment of window shutters and burglar bars for shelter and security, and also the application of plaster and paint. At HYT we believe it is important to instil pride in schools and their communities. An attractive, professional structure is likely to be well-maintained and looked after for years to come. Outfitting and decorating also provide vital construction skills for trainees. Thanks to Batten, they will learn all of the techniques necessary to become professional builders.
Another key technique for HYT masons is building with specially designed curved blocks. Kipling House has provided the opportunity for such training by funding the school’s rainwater harvesting tank. Like HYT’s regular Interlocking Stabilised Soil Blocks (ISSBs), curved blocks are cured in the sun and do not require the firewood that is used for making traditional burned bricks. With their interlock minimising cement usage, they provide a durable, environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic water tanks. Kipling’s generous contribution will equip St. Stephen’s with this resource-saving device, and the trainees with the capacity to build more of these structures.
Even with a brand new water tank and classroom, a school is nothing without its staff. Long distances and difficult road conditions make it hard for teachers, most of whom cycle, to reach school on time. This is where Haileybury’s Lower School come in, with their sponsoring of a staff accommodation block. Building on the innovative designs shared with HYT by the Richard Feilden Foundation, this comfortable home is economical and tailored to the local environment. It’s veranda takes advantage of Uganda’s tropical climate to provide ample outdoor living and cooking space. As the most complex structure at St. Stephen’s, it represents one of the final challenges for trainees before their graduation as ISSB masons.
It is inspiring to see the efforts of Haileybury fundraisers combine with those of Uganda’s youth to create vital structures for schools and communities, and the impact doesn’t end there! HYT-trained masons, like Haileybury’s pupils, gain valuable knowledge to help and empower them throughout the rest of their lives. They will use their new skills to build and improve the lives of people all over Uganda, as part of a charity that prides itself on giving a hand up, not a hand out.
Finally, you may know that HYT is a finalist in the prestigious 2017 Ashden Awards. You can read more about what this means for the Trust and our work in Uganda here!